RECIPE: Kanafeh, Arabic Cheese Pastry

image-kanafeh-arabic-pastryKanafeh: sweet cheese filling under a crunchy topping. A favorite Ramadan dessert.

Ramadan 2011 begins after sunset on July 31st. One of the many luscious traditional pastries served during the night meals of Ramadan month is kanafeh. Subtly flavored with lemon and rosewater, doused with syrup, it makes up for all the calories burnt off during the daytime fast. Serve it with Turkish coffee.

Another lovely Arabic pastry for Ramadan break-fast or any time, is date-stuffed ma’moul cookies. Substitute dates for the nuts in the recipe, for dates are said to be the first food Muhammad ate when he broke his fast.

Kanafeh isn’t hard to make at home. The steps are simple and the ingredients widely available. If the classic kanaifa dough isn’t to be found in your area, substitute angel-hair (vermicelli) noodles. The trick is to massage the dough strands with melted butter – patience is required.

What I think is that it’s probably really good reflexology therapy, as the dough gently presses reflex points while you squeeze it. And the butter should leave you with the softest hands… But  eaters won’t be concerned with the thoughts of the cook once they put a spoonful of kanafeh in their mouths. They’ll just want more kanafeh.

If you don’t care to skim the milk solids off the melted butter, the kanafeh will be white. For that appetizing golden color, the solids must be skimmed off. Don’t worry about removing some of the butter along with the milk solids.

Kanafeh sold in pastry shops is a bright orange color, contrasting with the green of chopped pistachios. It comes from a few drops of food coloring. I suggest you just enjoy the kanefeh without the food coloring.


You’ll need a large bowl, a spoon, a 10″ pie pan or round, flat baking pan, and a serving plate large enough to take the finished cake when inverted onto it.

For fine-noodle dough:
1 package defrosted Kataifi noodles (found in Middle Eastern grocery stores) or fine vermicelli
1 cup – 200 grams butter, melted and milk solids skimmed off

Butter, for greasing baking pan

For Syrup:
1-1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon rose water

For Filling:
3 1/3 cup – 800 grams ricotta cheese

For Topping:
1/4 cup each blanched, chopped almonds and crushed pistachios
5 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Mix the ingredients for the sugar syrup in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes.
Allow to cool. Add rosewater, mix, and set aside.

Pre -heat the oven to 350°F – 180° C.

Shred the  kataifi dough into the large bowl. Twist and break off the strands with your hands.

Pour the melted butter into the shredded kataifi dough and mix in thoroughly, using your hands to coat every strand.

Grease the baking pan with butter. Place half the dough at the bottom. Press it in firmly, leaving a rim of 1 cm. around.

Spread the cheese all over.

Spread the other half of the dough, over the cheese, this time pressing into place gently.

Bake  for about 30-40 minutes until the surface is golden- brown.

Remove from oven and pour sugar syrup all over the hot kanafeh. Allow to cool completely.

Invert on to serving plate.

Sprinkle nuts all over. If you wish, cut squares or lozenge shapes and decorate the centers with small piles of the pistachios.

Serve the kanafeh warm, with coffee.

Need something savory to serve before the kanafeh? Green Prophet has those recipes:

Baba Ganoush

Grilled Vegetables with a Middle Eastern Accent

Labneh Yogurt Spread

Poussins Stuffed with Pine Nuts and Rice



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